“Tuis enim fidelibus, Domine, vita mutatur non tollitur … Truly for Thy faithful, O Lord, life is changed, not taken away.” This phrase from the Preface for the Dead is a fitting way for us to ring out a liturgical year and to bring in the new with the First Sunday of Advent.
During November we reflected on the Four Last Things and prayed for the dead. Since Advent was once longer than it is today, the themes of the Second Coming and the world’s end flow back into the end of the year and forward into the new. So it is with life.
Births also prompt reflection on the end of life, just as deaths cause us to consider the whys and wherefores of our births. To what end, O Lord, is this beautiful little image of God brought into the world’s travails? To what end, O Lord, did this Christian soul play out his role before going to Thy throne? What now lies ahead for me? What lies beyond the final breath? For the faithful, thoughtful living chimes with these questions.
Each year Holy Church, who is the greatest expert on humanity that there has ever been, presents to us through liturgical seasons and cycles both the mysteries of the Lord’s life and those of the history of salvation, from creation to the resolution of the cosmos in fire. She gives us these mysteries year in and year out, not because they change, but because we change. With every year, wherein we grow and diminish, have successes and defeats, joys and sorrows, we are little different. Hence, we are able to reflect on and be transformed by the celebration of the same mysteries in a new way, year in, year out.
Our active participation in our sacred liturgical worship – we are our rites! – shapes who we are. And so our lives are woven by God’s grace and our elbow grease into an ineffable tapestry of contrasts until, when the loom’s shuttle ceases its swift courses, the thread is cut and we are released into glory. Life changes. It doesn’t end. As Longfellow wrote, “the grave is not the goal”.
Advent is a season of joyful penance – or penitential joy, if you prefer – before our happy celebration of the First Coming of the Christ Child. Prepare well the path of His coming to you during this holy season.